Merrill Lynch Talks Up Nike and Drug Distributors, Talks Down iPhone

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Bank of America/Merrill Lynch is out with several keynote research calls on Tuesday. The firm is talking up the safe haven aspects of drug distributors like AmerisourceBergen Corp. (NYSE: ABC), Cardinal Health Inc. (NYSE: CAH) and McKesson Corp. (NYSE: MCK), and it is talking up the prospects for Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE). Unfortunately, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is still a somewhat negative or neutral call for the fanboys out there.

Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) just was added officially to the esteemed Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Merrill Lynch team is raising expectations. The firm reiterated its Buy rating and raised the price target to $75 from $68. The firm expects price increases of 3% to 4%, strong global momentum in basketball, market share gains in running footwear and U.S. apparel strength. These gains should more than offset a flat futures forecast for China.

Merrill Lynch has raised its expectations for drug distribution companies. The firm sees supportive comparable company valuations within its Health Care Technology & Distribution universe. It is most enthusiastic about drug distributors as they are poised to grow over scalable infrastructures and lower working capital requirements and with more capital returned to shareholders. It even called these drug distributors safe havens, which are less directly tied to expected Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement cuts. Cardinal Health is its top pick, and here were the three distributor hikes made to price targets:

  • AmerisourceBergen Corp. (NYSE: ABC) was raised from $61 to $67, versus $61.57 as a last closing price.
  • Cardinal Health Inc. (NYSE: CAH) was raised from $54 to $58, versus a $53.25 closing price.
  • McKesson Corp. (NYSE: MCK) was raised from $130 to $142, versus a $129.50 close.

On Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) we saw one upgrade and one downgrade elsewhere this morning after the company sold some 9 million new iPhone 5 models. Now Merrill Lynch is only reiterating its Neutral rating with a price target of $520. Apple’s pre-announced revenue and gross margin are near the high end of guidance, and the most recent launch was helped along by the inclusion of China and more countries, as well as the 5C. The firm’s Neutral rating is based on Apple’s lack of a true low-end iPhone for emerging markets, lack of a China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) deal and what is likely a less-than-expected impact if or when a China Mobile deal is announced.